An investigation into natural sciences educators' perceptions and practices of classroom assssment [sic] : a case study of the grade eight educators in the Pietermaritzburg region.
Nkabane, Ethel-Maria Terresah Kholiwe.
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The aim of this study was to investigate Grade eight (8) Natural Science educators' assessment classroom practices and their perceptions about assessment. This study was based on the theory of a hierarchy of knowledge and skills that underpins the Revised National Curriculum Statement for Natural Sciences. An assumption was made that if assessment practices are to promote learning, as conceived in Curriculum 2005, educators' assessment practices must reflect a hierarchy of knowledge and skills. The educators' perceptions and their assessment practices were explored in the light of how learning is conceived to take place in the Revised National Curriculum Statement for Natural Sciences, i.e. learning is conceptualised as a "process". It was on this basis that an "accumulative" nature of learning was perceived as a relevant theoretical framework informing this study, i.e. learning ranges from simple to complex capabilities. To facilitate the educator's assessment practices and perceptions, a qualitative and quantitative approach was adopted. Interview schedules, observations and document analysis instruments were used as a means of collecting relevant data. The interview schedule included questions that elicited educators' biographies, perceptions the educators hold in relation to a hierarchy of knowledge and skills and the perceptions the educators hold about assessment. The observation schedule and the document analysis instrument were based on Gagne's hierarchy of knowledge and skills. These skills are discrimination learning, concept learning, rule learning and problem solving learning. The sample consisted of four Grade eight Natural Sciences educators drawn from four high schools in the greater Pietermaritzburg district. Three of these educators were from well-resource urban schools and one was from a poorly resourced Imbali Township. Interviews, documents and observations were analysed in terms of a hierarchy of knowledge and skills as a research framework informing the study. The results show that all the respondents assessed concrete and concept categories more frequently than the rules and problem- solving categories. This assessment strategy was common in both oral and written assessment tasks. The results exposed some inconsistencies between the educators' perceptions and their assessment practices. All four educators have unclear perceptions of the notion of a hierarchy of knowledge and skills, while in practice a wide range of categories of knowledge and skills were used in assessment tasks. The findings led to the conclusion that the policy needs to be explicit about the fact that the expected assessment standards within each learning outcome are organised around the notion of a hierarchy of knowledge and skills. This will make it clear to science educators why assessment should form an integral part of learning. In- service programmes are necessary to sensitise educators about organising assessment practices on the basis of a hierarchy of knowledge and skills.